Chapters 1-6

The Population Growth of Humans and Animals

by Montesquieu

Female animals have an almost constant fecundity. But in the human species, the manner of thinking, the character, the passions, the humour, the caprice, the idea of preserving beauty, the pain of childbearing, and the fatigue of a too numerous family, obstruct propagation a thousand different ways.

Chapter 2: Marriage

THE natural obligation of the father to provide for his children has established marriage, which makes known the person who ought to fulfil this obligation.

The people* mentioned by Pomponius Mela† had no other way of discovering him but by resemblance.

Among civilized nations, the father‡ is that person on whom the laws, by the ceremony of marriage, [122] have fixed this duty; because they find in him the man they want.

Amongst brutes this is an obligation which the mother can generally perform; but it is much more extensive amongst men. Their children indeed have reason; but this comes only by slow degrees. It is not sufficient to nourish them; we must also direct them: they can already live; but they cannot govern themselves.

Illicit conjunctions contribute but little to the propagation of the species. The father, who is under a natural obligation to nourish and educate his children, is not then fixed; and the mother, with whom the obligation remains, finds a thousand obstacles from shame, remorse, the constraint of her sex, and the rigour of laws; and besides, she generally wants the means.

Women who have submitted to a public prostitution, cannot have the conveniency of educating their children: the trouble of education is incompatible with their station: and they are so corrupt, that they can have no protection from the law.

It follows from all this, that public continence is naturally connected with the propagation of the species.

Chapter 3: Children

IT is a dictate of reason, that when there is a marriage, children should follow the station or condition of the father; and that when there is not, they can belong to the mother only.*

Chapter 4: Families

IT is almost every where a custom for the wife to pass into the family of the husband. The contrary is without any inconveniency established at Formosa,* where the husband enters into the family of the wife.

This law, which fixes the family in a succession of persons of the same sex, greatly contributes, independently of the first motives, to the propagation of the human species. The family is a kind of property: a man who has children of a sex which does not perpetuate it, is never satisfied if he has not those who can render it perpetual.

Names, whereby men acquire an idea of a thing, which one would imagine ought not to perish, are extremely proper to inspire every family with a desire of extending its duration. There are people, amongst whom names distinguish families: there are others, where they only distinguish persons: the latter have not the same advantage as the former.

Chapter 5: The several Orders of lawful Wives

LAWS and religion sometimes establish many kinds of civil conjunctions; and this is the case among the Mahometans, where there are several orders of wives, the children of whom are distinguished by being born in the house, by civil contracts, or even by the slavery of the mother, and the subsequent acknowledgment of the father.

It would be contrary to reason, that the law should stigmatize the children for what it approved in the father. All these children ought therefore to succeed, at least if some particular reason does not oppose it, as in Japan, where none inherit but the children of the wife given by the emperor. Their policy demands that the gifts of the emperor should not be too much divided, because they subject them to a kind of service, like that of our ancient fiefs.

There are countries, where a wife of the second rank enjoys nearly the same honours in a family, as in our part of the world are granted to an only consort: there the children of concubines are deemed to belong to the first or principal wife. Thus it is also established in China. Filial respect,* and the ceremony of deep mourning, are not due to the natural mother, but to her appointed by the law.

By means of this fiction, they have no bastard children; and where such a fiction does not take place, it is obvious, that a law to legitimate the children of concubines, must be considered as an act of violence, as the bulk of the nation would be stigmatised by such a decree. Neither is there any regulation in those countries, with regard to children born in adultery. The recluse lives of women, the locks, the inclosures, and the eunuchs, render all infidelity to their husbands so difficult, that the law judges it impossible. Besides, the same sword would exterminate the mother and the child.

Chapter 6: Bastards in different Governments

THEY have, therefore, no such thing as bastards, where polygamy is permitted; this disgrace is known [125] only in countries, in which a man is allowed to marry but one wife. Here they were obliged to stamp a mark of infamy upon concubinage, and consequently they were under a necessity of stigmatizing the issue of such unlawful conjunctions.

In republics, where it is necessary that there should be the purest morals, bastards ought to be more degraded than in monarchies.

The laws made against them at Rome were perhaps too severe, but as the ancient institutions laid all the citizens under a necessity of marrying; and as marriages were also softened by the permission to repudiate, or make a divorce; nothing but an extreme corruption of manners could lead them to concubinage.

The quality of a citizen was a very considerable thing in a democratic government because it carried the sovereign power.

This is why they frequently made laws in respect to the state of bastards, which had less relation to the thing itself, and to the honesty of marriage, than to the particular constitution of the republic.

Thus the people have sometimes admitted bastards as citizens to increase their power in opposition to the great.

Thus the Athenians excluded bastards from being citizens, that they might possess a greater share of the wheat sent them by the king of Egypt.

Aristotle informs us:

  • that in many cities where there was not enough citizens, their bastards succeeded to their possessions
  • that when there was a proper number, they did not inherit.

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